The German command, in short, after having managed to attract large allied forces towards the north-east, having identified the weak point of the opposing armor in correspondence with the stretch where the Maginot line joined the lines of dubious resistance that extended it to the sea, had vibrated there his hammer blow, managing to overwhelm the French defense and thus obtaining that in little more than a week from the “battle of the frontiers”, it passed to the “battle of France”.
According to Naturegnosis, the Meuse, which had already been crossed in the night from 12 to 13 May, by the armored divisions of General Rommel, in the section between Dinant and Namur, so as to interpose a wedge between the 1st and 9th French armies, was subsequently overcome also by the army of gen. Reinhardt, between Fumay and Charleville, and from the army of gen. Guderian in the Sedan area, so that the entire French front, from Namur to Sedan, was now broken through, and the German armored divisions could quickly continue their advance towards the Channel ports, along two parallel routes: Sedan-Amiens-Abbeville and Hirson -Cambrai-Arras-Le Touquet. Gen. Gamelin, who was therefore replaced, on the 19th, by gen. Weygand, who had already been, in the other war,
Meanwhile, the French armies were trying to stop, with desperate counterattacks, the irresistible adversary march, but only one such counterattack – the one launched by an armored group, under the command of Colonel Ch. De Gaulle on the flank of the von Rundstedt army, in the region by Moncornet – managed to obtain partial success. But it was now too late. Through the wide breaches opened in the French front, the German armies continued rapidly in their advance, crossing the Oise, seizing Laon and the Chemin des Dames and starting to descend, through the Aisne and the Oise, in the direction of Paris.
While it seemed that this last German move towards the capital was the most important, here, instead, the German command concentrates its maximum effort in the direction of Amiens and Arras, reaching, on the 20th, the Cambrai-Péronne road. This last town is just a few tens of kilometers from Amiens, a very important road and railway communication junction between France and the coast facing England. On the day of the 21st the German maneuver was crowned with full success: Arras and Amiens were both occupied and the sea, with the speeding of a fast column, reached Abbeville. All the surviving troops of Belgium, the French armies of the north and the British forces remained closed, thus, within a vast pocket that from Abbeville, near the mouth of the Somme, for Arras and the course of the Shoes, Valenciennes and part of the course of the Scheldt, it went to the Dutch border. The allied front was practically divided into two sections.
The new French commander wanted to attempt a counterattack against that kind of living bar that the Germans had boldly stretched across northern France, acting, between Bapaume and Chaulnes, against the German forces pushed to the sea, but he had to stop in the face of the ascertained inferiority of forces. battleships and the evident weariness of the troops.
On the other hand, following the events that took place in Belgium, an equally evident contrast between the intentions of the French command and those of the English command emerged in the following days: the one concerned to provide as effectively as possible to the rest of its territory; by now despairing of the rescue the other and, not being able to exclude even, in those situations, of having as soon as possible to provide for the direct defense of the British Isles, yearning to regain English soil and therefore to keep the way to the sea open. Furthermore, German superiority was becoming increasingly clear both in Belgium, where King Leopold’s army laid down their arms on the 27th, and in France, where the Germans were strengthening and expanding their occupation of the corridor day by day.
Any idea of a counter-offensive was therefore abandoned. Over a million men – 9 English divisions, 15 French, the entire Belgian army and their services – were now locked within a sort of triangle with the base resting on the sea, where only one port – that of Dunkirk – allowed to attempt the re-embarkation of such a huge human mass, and the summit towards Douai, about a hundred kilometers from the coast. The operation, extremely difficult, by which several hundreds of thousands of men had to be rescued on the British coast, took place with complete success between 28 May and 3 June.
The allied losses in the battle of the north could be calculated in 24 infantry divisions, 2 cavalry divisions, 3 light mechanized divisions and one battleship: about one million men in all. Nine English divisions, moreover, would never resume the struggle in France; undoubtedly serious, finally, the losses suffered by the Allies in warships, merchant ships, airplanes and materials of all kinds.
The French forces, meanwhile, were preparing to defend the rest of the national territory, but they were reduced to very little: 43 infantry divisions, 3 armored and 3 cavalry. To these divisions, moreover very impoverished of materials, there were 17 divisions called “fortress”, that is composed of old reservists, and some other units in the process of being constituted.